3. Burkina Faso: Cotton and shea producers satisfy Western taste for organic products (Agence France-Presse)

| February 4, 2008

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The Western world has fallen in love with organic products. And cotton producers in Burkina Faso couldn’t be happier.

One out of every two workers in the emerging organic cotton market is a woman. Korotimi Sory is the president of the cotton producers association in Tiéfora, in Burkina Faso’s southwest. She says women in her association have been producing organic cotton for three years. And they are seeing the benefits of this new Western desire.

Victoria’s Secret – an American lingerie retailer – is planning a line of organic underwear. It signed a contract with Burkina’s national union of cotton producers for 600 tonnes of organic cotton seed in 2008.

In 2006, Burkina Faso’s cotton seed production was 350 tonnes. It’s estimated that the country’s producers will harvest nearly ten times that amount in 2008.

But it’s not only Burkina’s cotton that has caught the Western eye. Shea butter is another crop riding the popularity of everything organic. Companies like The Body Shop and L’Occitane are driving demand.

According to the magazine New Agriculturalist, farmers who cannot afford to invest in high-intensity crops like cotton are often excluded from markets that provide higher prices. But shea is the exception. Shea nuts grow naturally in the semi-arid Sahel region – especially in Burkina Faso – which allows women to tap into a lucrative market.

For years, shea nuts have been used locally, both in food production and to make soap. Shea is also knows as “women’s gold,” as women have always been the ones to harvest the nuts and make the butter. The profits go directly to the poor rural women who produce the butter.

For Burkina Faso’s women, the shea tree is synonymous with a better life. The export of shea butter and shea nuts generates profits of up to 5 million CFA, or about 7 million US dollars, each year. Organic certification boosts profits even higher – and can help assure that the women’s families have enough to eat, and their children can attend school.